Last fall, the United States saw an early and significant spike in cases of Respiratory Syncytial Virus, or RSV, which is the leading cause of hospitalizations in all infants. Now, there are options available to help prevent RSV in babies, including a preventive antibody and an RSV vaccination during pregnancy.
During the first season the new RSV immunizations are offered, they may be limited in availability in provider locations. Public health experts are prioritizing use of the monoclonal antibody in infants at highest risk.
To ensure parents and caregivers of infants and young children have all the facts they need to protect their children during peak RSV season, the American Lung Association is sharing the following insights:
- RSV is extremely common. RSV infects people of all ages, and nearly 100% of all children become infected by age two.
- RSV can be severe. Most people, including infants, develop only mild symptoms similar to that of a common cold, but for some, RSV can be severe and even life threatening. The leading cause of hospitalizations in all infants, up to 80,000 children younger than five are hospitalized due to RSV in the United States each year.
- Severity is unpredictable. Good overall health is not a safeguard against severe RSV. A study by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that 79% of children hospitalized with RSV were previously healthy.
- RSV season is now. RSV season typically begins in the fall and peaks in the winter.
RSV is easily spread from person to person through close contact through respiratory droplets from coughing and sneezing. It can also survive on hard surfaces, such as toys and doorknobs, for many hours and can be spread by touching a surface with the virus on it and then touching your face or your baby’s face.
If you have contact with an infant or young child, especially if they were born prematurely, are very young, have chronic lung or heart disease, a weakened immune system, or have neuromuscular disorders, you should take extra care to keep the infant healthy.
To help prevent severe RSV illness in infants, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the RSV vaccination during weeks 32-36 of pregnancy in September through January, or the new monoclonal antibody. The preventive antibody is recommended for infants under 8 months old in their first RSV season and some young children between 8 and 19 months old at increased risk, such as children who have chronic lung disease as a result of being born prematurely. This one-dose immunization is a long-acting preventive antibody that provides an extra layer of defense to help babies fight RSV infections for five months.
Monoclonal antibodies are man-made proteins that mimic the immune system’s naturally-produced antibodies to help fight off harmful viruses. This preventive antibody is not a vaccine, and not for children who are already sick with RSV.
If you are the parent or caregiver of a young child, you are also encouraged to:
- Avoid close contact with sick people.
- Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds.
- Avoid kissing your child while you’re sick.
- Talk with your healthcare provider about your baby’s risk and options to prevent severe RSV illness.
For more RSV information, visit Lung.org/RSV.
RSV impacts millions of people in the United States annually. Fortunately, this RSV season, there are more ways you can help protect your infant.
Statepoint news contributed to the content of this article